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Kicking the cancer, not 'The Bucket List'

From Paul Strater, Oswego, IL:

Like you, I am a member of the Chicago media, I'm on the broadcast side. Like you, I have had a dance with cancer. Like you, it gave me pause to consider my life and career and from what I have read, like you, it left me more appreciative of the things that I have done. I find you to be an example of the right way to fight cancer, as opposed to those who wallow in self-pity. You know, the kind of people who would name a benefit race "Y-me". Why NOT you? Why not ANY of us? I digress.

In your review of "The Bucket List" you mention that you find the pursuit of a goal long deferred to be implausible during chemotherapy. Although I have not seen the film as I write this, I want to gently correct you on the plausibility of that notion.

In 2000 I was diagnosed with cancer. I had surgery, four months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation therapy at Northwestern Hospital, just a short walk from the station. It had always been a goal of mine to become a licensed pilot. Cancer wanted to put that on indefinite hold. In the world of the Federal Aviation Administration, diagnosis of anything but certain types of skin cancer is an immediately disqualifying condition for the purposes of obtaining an FAA medical certificate.

I fought this, sending a stack of tests, reports, letters and other medical minutiae into the FAA's Aeromedical Center in Oklahoma City. It took weeks of gathering all this data and follow-up phone calls to goad the system along, but my persistence was rewarded with a third-class FAA medical with a restriction stating "72 hour warning after Chemotherapy," meaning that I could not exercise the privileges of my medical certificate (read: "Act as pilot in command of an aircraft") for three days after a treatment.

For weeks on end, I sat in the "Chemo Chair", a recliner with an IV stand, studying my coursework to pass the written exam. One day in 2001, my flight instructor and I stood on the ramp at Waukegan Regional Airport staring at our watches. Once the prescribed time had passed, he signed my log book, hiked up to the control tower and watched me as I soloed an airplane for the first time, right in the middle of the course of chemotherapy.

I have told people every day since then the same thing: "Don't take s**t off of cancer". Your actions during your own personal experience exemplify this concept, and are truly inspiring not only to others in the media, but also to others with cancer. Refusing to give up is the hallmark of successful cancer treatment and you provide everyone with this disease a public display of a private battle that you are winning, and continuing to inspire others to do the same.

May you realize a dream deferred during your treatment. Thumbs up to you!

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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